A social model approach encompasses small groups of clients living together in upscale cottages. This peer-oriented process of rehabilitation originated in California as a grassroots movement built on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the 1940s. Starting in the 1970s, social model programs embraced recovery as a lifelong, experiential, peer-based learning process for clients recovering from alcoholism. Initially, the term “social model” was used to differentiate community-based programs from hospital-based treatment. This approach typically embraces 12-step or other mutual-help group strategies to create and facilitate substance abuse recovery. Further, the approach emphasizes the importance of the interaction between the individual and their environment in the recovery process. The homelike setting helps clients effectively navigate interpersonal situations that may be similar to those experienced with family members, friends and colleagues.
How the Social Model Approach Helps
Social model approaches promote health and well-being by fostering experience-based learning among peers. This enables individuals to alter values, attitudes, beliefs or behaviors in a positive manner. The primary goal of the social model is to create a homelike setting where sobriety is an attainable standard. A key component is that clients leverage their own personal recovery experience to help others. Limited research studies on self-identified social modes indicate similar or better outcomes than clinically-oriented treatment programs. Studies on sober living houses employing a social model approach showed significant improvements in a variety of outcomes, and these were maintained at 18-month follow-up. These studies also found that factors central to social model recovery (e.g. involvement in 12-step and social networks) were key to achieving positive outcomes.
Benefits of the Social Model Approach
The social model approach shifts the focus from the cultural norm that views alcohol and drug abuse as a personal failing to the household and community environment. This positive, supportive environment fosters a culture of recovery. By drawing on the strengths and support of peers, clients are able to cast off their addictive lifestyles and reconstruct self-identities tied to recovery. In this safe sanctuary, clients essentially must reinvent themselves to achieve a sober life. The social model setting offers a sustained physical, social and spiritual environment conducive to sustained recovery. The culture embraces the core belief that sobriety is healthier than abusing alcohol or drugs and encourages clients to avoid these behaviors no matter what. The ultimate goal is to facilitate an individual’s ability to improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. Benefits include:
- Enhanced emotional and social well-being
- Improved sense of belonging
- Enhanced personal growth
- Greater accountability
- Improved interpersonal relationships
- Greater empathy and understanding
- Reduced self-centeredness
- Reduced risk of relapse